The Open Window Summary
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Saki’s short story “The Open Window” tells the tale of Mr. Framton Nuttel who, on the advice of his doctor, travels to a village to affect a cure for his nervous condition.Nuttel’s sister has previously lived in the area and provides him with a letter of introduction to present to the proprietor, Mrs. Sappleton.When he arrives,Sappleton’s niece Vera entertains him while he waits for his host. Vera has a vivid imagination and enjoys weaving stories for her own amusement.Her latest victim is no exception.The tale she weaves about her family is fantastical, and Nuttel falls for it hook, line, and sinker.
Years ago, Mrs. Sappleton’s husband and her two brothers ventured out to hunt and were drowned in a swamp. Their bodies were never recovered.It was said they had left the house through a French window. Mrs. Sappleton, in her grief, believes her husband and brothers will eventually return they way they had gone and thus, leaves the window open in anticipation of their inevitable reunion. When Sappleton finally joins them, Nuttel tells her of his nervous condition explaining the reason for his visit and the doctor’s recommendation that he avoid overdue mental exertion. He is deeply disturbed by Sappleton’s confirmation of Vera’s story.
His concerns turn to horror when the three men finally reappear. Thinking them ghosts and further petrified by Vera’s horror at seeing the men approaching the house, he flees in terror. Vera however, further perpetuates her tale telling the men, who are puzzled at the fleeing Nuttel, that he has run due to an unnatural fear of dogs..The tale is revealed to the reader to be a hoax.While the three men have indeed gone hunting, they left the house only that day.They stumble into the somewhat awkward situation and discover the truth of what happened. As it turns out, Vera is a perpetual liar.She tells the men that Nuttel was once frightened by a group of pariah dogs in a graveyard and had bolted from the house at the sight of a cocker spaniel accompanying them. Poor Nuttel is but the latest victim of the young woman’s fantastical imagination.
Saki’s ingenious method of storytelling allows the reader to take part in Vera’s practical joke. For a moment, the reader is just as clueless to the truth as Nuttel. The author allows the narrator to remain in the house after the protagonist’s hasty departure to reveal the irony in the tale as well as to bear witness to the second demonstration of Vera’s ability to craft an elaborate tale on such short notice. Yet, she does not craft such stories for their own sake.She is clearly a victim of her own boredom and gains some measure of satisfaction from leading relatives and strangers alike down one rabbit hole after another. She not only possesses great cleverness, but also incredible cunning, as she first ensures Nuttel knows nothing about her aunt or family before weaving her false story.
Although Saki’s story is satirical and somewhat macabre in nature, the author explores three important themes that add to the reader’s appreciation of the tale. First, Saki explores the concept of chaos vs. order by disrupting the otherwise tranquil household with tragic death as well as the ghosts of the dearly departed. The open window mentioned in the title becomes the conduit by which these ghastly figures disrupt the status quo of the home. By claiming the swamp as the instrument of their demise, Saki utilizes nature to introduce a dangerous and threatening environment to the story.Instead of the serenity normally associated with nature, Saki transforms it into dangerous terrain and creates an unsettling environment for Nuttel and the reader alike.
Next, Saki explores the concept of empowerment in the visage of Vera.Though only a child, she is repeatedly able to deceive adults with her intricately conceived fables. While the adults in the story should know better than to trust a young girl at her word, Saki introduces an unstable element that puts them at a disadvantage from the beginning, and pits the child against these disadvantages. Nuttel’s nervous condition and Mrs. Sappleton’s supposed mental instability creates the framework by which the author is able to make Vera’s tale more believable.
Lastly, the author examines the two main characters’ desire to escape.Vera and Nuttel are both propelled by this desire, but for very different reasons.Vera desires to escape the adult world in which she feels trapped. She does so through her imagination and storytelling.Nuttel however, ventures to a rural town to escape the stimuli at the heart ofhis nervous condition. And while Vera’s escape produces the desired results of entertainment and distraction, Nuttel’s is not quite as successful.In the end, it proves to instigate more chaos than calm.
Saki’s narrative serves as a comedic rendition of the traditional ghost story. He uses Vera’s tale to infuse the story with just the right amount of suspense and mystery while bringing the reader along for the ride.Ultimately, the reader is duped along with Nuttel, as the tale turns out to be a masterfully devised prank by an imaginative girl with far too much time on her hands.